Ever since The Hepworth opened in Wakefield, I’ve been promising myself a visit. Finally, five years later, I made it.The result is that I am now very angry with myself for not going earlier and I want to go again and again. It exceeded all my expectations.
The building is a work of art. Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, it is a grey concrete leviathan planted by the River Calder. Its stark, brutalist good looks work perfectly with the industrial buildings surrounding it. Entrance is free, although donations are encouraged and this means that The Hepworth feels truly inclusive and not at all rarefied. It’s full of all sorts of people, young and old, from all sorts of backgrounds.
Our first stop was the café, which was excellent and not too pricey. We paid £4.50 for a bowl of tasty homemade soup and bread. Refuelled, we began our tour and it started with a smile and a helpful and enthusiastic explanation about the different galleries from one of the young assistants. It was most welcome.
One of the biggest surprises is how much there is to see. In fact, by the time we left our heads felt like they might burst. We began with Wakefield’s art collection, which includes a sculpture by Wakefield-born sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth after who the gallery is named. There is also work by fellow Yorkshire sculptor Henry Moore, paintings by David Hockney and LS Lowry and a host of other big-name artists.
Other exhibitions on at the moment include part of the collection from Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge – another place I’ve always fancied seeing – and a fantastic tribute to Yorkshire novelist and playwright David Storey, of “This Sporting Life” fame. There are vintage publicity posters for his productions, photographs, details of his fascinating life history and his own drawings – he trained at the Slade school of art.
The Hepworth Family Gift is one of the biggest attractions and with good reason. It comprises 44 plaster and aluminium models made by the great Dame in preparation for her work in bronze. To untrained eyes like mine they look like the real thing. There are also drawings, lithographs and a video of Dame Barbara at work. Born in 1903, she used her talent to explore Modernism. She was also a working mum with triplets, which as a mother of twins, I found very impressive.
After a much-needed sit down and bit of people watching, I rallied for the exhibition I was most excited about. Stanley Spencer: of Angels and Dirt, which is on until October 5. There are more than 70 works plus biographical information and extracts from his diaries, which added greatly to the experience. A letter he wrote to his late ex-wife explaining his love for her is a real tear-jerker (though, to be fair, I cry at anything).
My favourite paintings by far are his wonderful portraits, though I’m not keen on his religious/resurrection work. As you can probably tell I am not an expert. In fact, I’m a bit clueless but I do believe in the power of art and I’d like to learn more.
So, thank you to The Hepworth and its lovely, relaxed atmosphere; the friendly and helpful staff and the information provided about the artists. I will be back.